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There was an audible breath, then a throat cleared. “Your daddy came in here this morning and withdrew four thousand, four hundred and fifty dollars from your account. LeeAnne waited on him, like usual. “

She let her head hit the piece of metal above the window. LeeAnne Parks was sweet on her dad, but he never gave her the time of day, due to her being available and not in need of a white knight. “But he didn’t have my permission.”

“He’s listed on your account.”

“That’s because I opened it when I was twelve, remember? You were the one who waited on me.”

“I realize that, but since then, you could have had him removed.”

Yeah, she could have, but she never dreamed Louis would steal from her. Taking a steadying breath, she counted to ten. “Is there anything I can do to get it back?”

“I’m sorry, Melanie. There’s nothing I or anyone else here can do. Why don’t you talk to Louis? In the meantime, we’ll have to hold-off on closing on your loan next month.”

“Thanks.” For nothing, she wanted to add. Melanie hung up and fisted her hand around her phone. “Damn you, Louis Smith.”

“Everything okay?” Carter asked as Melanie appeared in his office again, her face red and her brown eyes glittering.

“No, everything is not okay.” She marched back to the table by the file cabinet and jerked the lid off of the helpless box. “The bank’s basically told me I’m a deadbeat and my dad’s run off with all my money.” Turning, she shook her head and gave him a brittle smile. “I was supposed to close on my house next month. Looks like that will never happen.”

Jumping up from his chair, he joined her at the table, taking away the file she’d just pulled out. “What can I do to help?” Hunting Louis down and beating the crap out of him for putting Melanie in this position was high on his list, but he didn’t think she’d like that too much. And he didn’t relish the thought of going to jail for assault.

“Nothing.” Lifting her chin, she took the file back and held it to her chest. “I’m never getting out of that trailer park.”

“I know you wanted the house, Melanie, but there’s not a thing wrong with living in a trailer park.”

Her expression turned sour. “Says the man that owns three houses and a condo.” Then she smacked both hands over her mouth, letting the file fall to the floor. “I’m so sorry. That was—”

“No need to apologize. We all say and do things we don’t mean, or at least we don’t mean once cooler heads prevail.”

She dropped to the floor, picking up the scattered papers. He joined her, handing her the ones that had slid under the table. “Thanks.” Replacing them, she set the folder on the table. “I don’t think I’m any good to you today.”

“Understandable.” Biting the side of his lip, he lifted his brows. “How would you feel about us taking a trip together—strictly business, of course—to Charlotte? I’ll pay for your expenses.”

“Is this the same trip you’d invited me on yesterday?” Her brown eyes had gone all soft and dewy.

He gave her a crooked smile. “Yeah, but I really do need you to come with me. I have three business meetings with possible investors, and I’ll need someone to help me keep everything straight. Maybe take some notes.”

“Don’t you have lawyers for that?”

“Yeah, but those investors always have an assistant and I can’t walk in there looking all wet behind the ears.” He had no idea if that was true or not, since his manager and agent had always handled things of that nature. But for this, his own start-up, he wanted to be the one to handle it. Even if it meant he fell flat on his face. He always did like to learn the hard way.

“Beats staying here and moping around,” she said with a shrug and a sigh.

“Gee thanks.”

“It’s not an insult.”

“Don’t explain yourself. Everyone needs to get away.” Warmth coursed through his veins as her expression of utter hopelessness eased a tiny bit. He knew the smallest distance gained could win the entire race. “Go home and pack, then I’ll be by to pick you up at five thirty.”

“Are we driving?”

“Flying. Wieland Airlines was a sponsor of mine and we’re still on good terms.” Actually, he’d decided to go that route, because he couldn’t ride in a car with Melanie for five hours and not keep his hands off of her.

***

The flight was uneventful and quick. Just the kind he liked. A limo picked them out front of Charlotte Douglas International, whisking them away to the Marquis. After checking in, the valet showed them to Melanie’s room.

Carter tipped the woman and shut the door behind her, then turned to face Melanie. She stood at the windows, peering out at the Charlotte skyline. The lights of the Carolina Panthers’ stadium were visible from this high up.

“Feel free to order room service, movies and gorge yourself on the mini-bar.” He smiled as she whirled to face him. “Jump on the bed and prank call the room next door.” All those things she had done with his sister the last time they’d come out to Charlotte to visit him, before he bought his house. But there was no way he could take Melanie to his house. He didn’t trust himself.

“Not much fun to do without a friend,” she said, moving to the bed. Her hand trailed over the covers. “This is a huge bed for just one person.”

Yeah and he’d like nothing more than to join her in it. His dick was on board with his plan, too. Jesus, he had to get out of there. “If you don’t need anything, I’ll be going.” He turned, moving to the door.

“Carter, wait!” Her coconut scent reached him before she did.

Hand on the door knob, he closed his eyes as her arms came around him. This is was okay. She’d always given him hugs, except when he’d gotten engaged, then she’d avoided him like he had the plague. Her br**sts flattened against his back. He stiffened.

“I’m glad you brought me with you. I needed this.”

“Me, too.” Then he opened the door and stepped out of her embrace.

***

The three meetings he had scheduled went two for three in his favor. Two major investors not only wanted to help him get started, but had a list of clients that would be interested in his services.

Only problem was that one of the investors was a close friend of the governor and Carter wasn’t completely sure that they were there for the potential to make money. Since he’d removed his manager and agent from the equation, he needed someone to bounce off ideas. someone that wouldn’t bullshit him or break his balls.

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